CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Ray's comment about New Car Salesmen

On this week’s show opening, the brothers had a discussion about how people around America rate different professions. Car salesmen were on the low-rated side as I recall. Down by lawyers and politicians. Tommy thought maybe this rating for car salesmen was unfair, but Ray wasn’t particularly complimentary about new car salesmen either! I forget what he said, but it definitely wasn’t complimentary. Especially the changes he’s apparently seen in car salesmen in more recent years. So what do you think? Are car salemen unfairly rated?

Me, I’ve had occassion to do battle with new car salesmen once or twice.

  • The car was priced on the manufacturer’s sticker, you know, stuck right on the driver’s side window, as $18,000. But the salesmen told me, no, it was priced at $20,500 instead. I was somewhat surprised, used to negotiating down from the sticker price. I asked how come this car could be priced even more than the sticker price? He said “It’s shipping and ADP”. He pointed to another sticker on the other side of the car, and there were two lines on it. One was a small shipping charge of a couple hundred dollars, and the second line was ADP: $2500. “$2500 for ADP? What’s ADP” I say? The salesmen gives me a look like I asked how much would it cost to buy a ticket on a rocket ship to Mars. Like I’m some idiot to ask such a question, you know. Finally, I keep asking about ADP, he turns to me, gives me a dirty look, and says, "ADP means ’ Additional Dealer Profit’.

  • I accompanied a female friend to help her buy a smallish 4WD SUV. She’d already decided to buy one, and what options she wanted. She asked me to help her negotiate the price. So she and I were there on the new car lot, looking at the assortment of SUV’s. She had found the one closest to the options she wanted, but didn’t like the color. The saleman walks up, says “hi, can I help you?”, and she explains this is the car she likes but wonders if it comes in a different color? The salesman – I’m not making this up – he says to her “Are you going to buy a car today or not? I’m here to sale cars. I don’t have time to answer questions.”

Ok, I think maybe Ray is right about today’s new car salesmen!

Overall, I don’t think that Ray was off-base.
Yes, there are some (probably very few) car salespeople who are honorable and knowledgeable, but–based on my experiences–they are few and far between.

However, it is important to point out that some of your complaints are attributable to the dealership, more than to the salesman. That “ADP” nonsense appears to have begun back in the '80s when demand for Hondas exceeded the supply. Back then, many Honda dealers typicially added an extra $1,000 (or more!) to the sticker price, simply because they could. I knew someone who traveled from NJ to Rhode Island to buy a car, because a Honda dealer in RI was “just” charging full sticker price, without the “ADP”.

Another dealer-driven problem is the presence of dealer-installed options, which are essentially either an over-priced wax job or low-quality, aftermarket styling gimmicks that are more appropriate for pimps than anyone else. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a flocked vinyl top, or poorly-fitting wheel well trim, or “paint sealant”, or God-only-knows what tacky things are present on every car on some dealer’s lots. If I visit a dealership where every car seems to have an extra sticker listing extra equipment that the dealership has installed, that is my signal to look elsewhere.

But, to return to the salesmen/women, the biggest issue that I have observed over the years is their almost universal ignorance about the technical features of the cars that they are selling. When I shop for a car, I first do my due diligence with online and hard-copy resources in order to educate myself. So, when I visit a showroom, I almost always know more about the technical features of a car than the salespeople do.

I won’t bore the regulars on this board with The Tale of the Traction Control, but if anyone wants me to repeat this gem, I will. Trust me–it illustrates just how ignorant a car salesman can be.

And, then we have the usual nonsense of…
What can I do to put you in this car today?
I have to check this price with my manager.
In order to get this price, you have to buy today!
You will save money by financing.
…and so forth.

Back in '92, when I bought my Accord, I decided to save everyone the hassle of the back & forth negotiating. On an index card, I wrote the highest amount that I was willing to pay for an Accord LX wagon, with my '86 Taurus in trade. When the salesman gave me a ridiculously high price, I took the card out of my pocket, handed it to him, and said, “I don’t care how you write up the deal regarding the trade-in value of my Taurus vs the price of the Accord. This is my top-dollar offer. Take it or leave it.” He disappeared for about 5 minutes, came back, and agreed to my price, which was about $2k under his “best price”.

Since then, I have found a small, family-owned dealership very close to my house. I first do my homework online and by visiting a couple of other dealerships. This local dealership’s staff know me very well by now, so they know that when I come in, I am ready to buy a car, and they really aren’t high-pressure folks anyway. They know that I am not there to play with them, and they treat me as a serious, well-informed buyer. When I go there, I already know what a good price would be, and within a couple of minutes, they calmly and readily agree to my price.

If more people would do their homework, and avoid the dealerships that are like shark tanks, they might find–as I have–that there are a few dealerships that are reasonably honorable, and whose salespeople are less like muggers.

I also concur with VDCDriver…I’ve rarely met an honest car salesman. They seem like your best friend. When I buy a new car I ALWAYS take the attitude they can’t be trusted and are trying to rip me off. I’ve met a few that were so obnoxious that I just stood up and walked out. They NEED your business. You DON’T need their business. I’ve driven 30+ miles past other dealerships to buy the vehicle I want at the price I’m willing to pay. I’ve had such a distaste for a couple of dealerships in NH that I REFUSE to do any business with them what-so-ever. My wife and I are both of the same mindset. And we both can negotiate very well with a dealer. I’ve helped a few coworkers dealer with a salesmen before. One was from India here on a work-visa. He was looking at buying a new car and wanted my help because he knew nothing about cars (never owned on in India…to expensive). He had already talked with a dealer, but wanted to talk to me first before he bought it. The deal was by far the worse I had ever seen. This was in the 90’s. It was for a new Taurus. I think the cars MSRP was around $20,000. The dealer was adding all these useless options on and bumped the price up to over $30k. I tried negotiating with the dealer…but hey were just plain scum. The salesman even made the remark to my friend as we were walking out the door…“Gee you’re not intelligence enough to negotiate a car deal on your own??” Within 2 hours he bought the exact same car from another dealer with all the options he wanted for less then $18,000. The power you have over these scum…is your ability to WALK AWAY. I’ve done it more then once.

I agree with the low opinion of car salesmen. However, many of these salesmen are trained to lie by their bosses, the sales managers. In any case, the number of lies are proportional to the degree of ignorance of the buyer.

We bought a Mazda3 for my wife recently and the salesman was actually very straight forward, since he had a fixed spiel. To get cruise control without having to buy a $3000 package of things we did not want took some effort. Mazda offers this as a dealer-installed option for $400 with steering wheel radio and cruise controls. We got the $2000 Madza seasonal discount, but since the car had to be obtained from another dealer, the sales manager wanted to tack on an extra $283! I sent the salesman back with a firm NO!, and got the car for the agreed-on price.

The biggest mistake buyers make is to be too eager, and believe everything they are told.

My worst experience was with a guy at a Pontiac dealership. He knew literally nothing about the Catalina sedan I was interested in. He then gave me his “card” and told me to come back when I was really ready to buy. I looked at the card, and it was his, but from a competing Chrysler dealership down the street!!! I looked him straight in the eye and asked him; “Are you sure you work here??”

I agree with the low opinion of car salesmen. However, many of these salesmen are trained to lie by their bosses, the sales managers. In any case, the number of lies are proportional to the degree of ignorance of the buyer.

I agree 100%. They are NOT doing this on their own. This is coming from the top down.

Being able to nonchalantly turn your back to the sales person and walk away is quite enabling and eliminates a great deal of ill will. There are too many fish in the sea and far too many dealerships to let yourself become emotionally involved with any one.

@RodKnox Walking out has worked all over the world from time immemorial! The last time I did it was in the Bankok, Thailand night market where they sell anything fake. US sailors on R&R pay $85 or so for a fake Rolex. However at the end of the business day you can get one for $20US! Tell them you are staying in town and will be back later if they have a better price. The most fun is in the souks, small markets in the Middle East. You can really get into a friendly shouting match with these guys.

Buying a car is basically horse trading, and requires a lot of bargaining. Many salesmen are surprised when you just walk out, and will run to their sales manager, who decides everything, that the client needs a better price. As Mike and others have demonstrated, feel free to walk out on any deal. I’ve even done this with appliance stores, where all prices are said to be “fixed”.

There’s nothing new, same thing I heard 30 years ago (and probably what my parents heard).

Good stories all! When I was a little kid, my dad would take me to the car dealership with him when he was looking to buy a new car (always a Ford). He thought it was a learning experience for me to watch how negotiations work. Plus, now I think about it, I think he believed he’d get an easier time from the car salesman if an 8 year old kid was watching and listening. Maybe there is something to that, as my dad seemed to get close to his original offers. Sometimes it took several hours of negotiating first. One time the talks stalled over the purchase of an F100 truck, my dad said to the saleman “ok, seems you need some time to think about this”. Then he writes his final figure on a 3x5 card, and his phone number, and gives it to the saleman. I’ll pay this amount for this car anytime this week. Phone me if you are interested. After Saturday at 5pm, I’ll look at Chevy trucks".

I’ll be darned, the saleman phoned on Saturday at 4 pm. And the Ford F100 truck was in the driveway later that evening.

@Docnick, good story about Bangkok watches. I got a really thin, really fake, Vacheron Constantin watch there for $25 a few years ago. The watch guy there told me he’d sell me a Rolex for even less, as the Rolex isn’t as hard to make, not as thin. All that said, I gave my fake Vacheron away to a neighbor kid who was going away in the fall to an Ivy league school – he could never have afforded the tuition except he worked hard in high school and got there on a scholarship. I thought him having the Vacheron watch would help him fit in I guess. Me, I prefer to wear my genuine Casio watch. It’s almost as thin.

@GeorgeSanJose Some people don’t know the difference beween real and fake. Friends of ours working in Venzuela had their house broken into and all the electronics were stolen, as well as the fake Rolex.

Another colleague was in his car Colombia, the paradise for pickpockets, waiting for the light to turn. He had his window down and arm resting on the sill with his hand up holding the top winfow rail. A thief dashed across the street and tried to pull the fake Rolex off his wrist. That moment the light turned green and my friend had no choice to move and drag the determined would be thief across the intersection. He finally let go, not realizing he had risked his life for $25 dollars.

The only person who took a dim view of my fake Rolex was the Swiss ambassador at a US Embassy reception. He pulled up his nose and called it a “Lolex”! I showed it to him to test his reaction.

he could never have afforded the tuition except he worked hard in high school and got there on a scholarship.

Which Ivy League college was this?? I thought they were all like Harvard now…NO ACADEMIC scholarships. Money is strictly given on financial need. If you get accepted to Harvard and your annual income is less then $150k…FREE TUITION. I thought all the Ivy’s went that way.

“Me, I prefer to wear my genuine Casio watch. It’s almost as thin”.
I bought a genuine Quartz watch (that’s what it says on the dial) at Big Lots for $5. It has a stainless steel case and an expansion watch band. It uses a 377 battery that is available everywhere. When I was in college, I had a watch that an aunt gave me that had belonged to her late husband. This couple had money, but never bought anything flashy–just high quality. When the watch quit running, I took it to a jeweler, but the price to fix it was too expensive. The watch remained in my dresser drawer for more than 40 years. I was at a jewelry store one day and happened to mention the watch to the jeweler. He thought I ought to bring the watch in. This jeweler is a watchmaker, but he wasn’t familiar with the make and recommended that I let him send it off to a friend in another city for an appraisal. A week later I got a call. The jeweler told me the cost to repair the watch would be $175, but before I said “no”, he told me that the watch is worth $4000. I did have it repaired, but it doesn’t keep any better time than my $5 special. Most of the time I just wear my $5 special.

As far as car salespeople are concerned, we were looking for a new car back in the fall of 1988. I visited the Pontiac dealer and the dealer had a left over 1987 Pontiac intermediate size car. The dealer hadn’t sold the car in a year. I reasoned that since the 1989 models were on the floor, the car was really 2 years old. I told the saleswoman that I wanted the best price and that I didn’t have time to mess around. She went to the sales manager and came back with a great deal. The dealership would take $100 off the sticker price. I said that I wasn’t interested and that I would be visiting the Ford agency down the street. She said that maybe they could do a little better. I told her that I had wanted the best price and she missed her chance at a sale and I walked. I bought a 1988 Taurus for much less than what the Pontiac would have cost. I deal with agencies by going in knowing exactly what I want. I have it listed on a piece of paper. I then say “You have a car and I have some money. I am here to find out how much of my money it will take to buy your car. Give me a price that you will guarantee for three days as I will be getting prices from other dealers. If you have the lowest price, I’ll buy the car. If not, someone else will sell me the car”. The good dealers have cooperated. I had one dealer that told me that he couldn’t give me a price until I made an offer–I walked.
The best salesman that I ever encountered was at a Rambler dealer. This was in 1965 and I wanted a basic car–no frills. I was looking at the Rambler American. The salesman said, “Would you really like to save some money?” The dealer had the next size bigger-- a Rambler Classic 550 with 7000 miles and the balance of the warranty of 24,000 miles. I drove out of the dealership with the car that I purchased for $1750. The price of the car new was about $2400. I drove the car for 8 years and put well over 100,000 miles on the car and sold it for $250. I would have bought another car from that salesman, but he had passed away by the time I needed another car. What I really appreciated about the salesman was that he understood what I wanted and didn’t try to talk me up to a more expensive car.

When we purchased our 1998 Sienna, we had settled on a price, and I asked the salesman if that was the final price (except taxes and state fees). He said yes, no other charges. When the contract came out, below the price there was printed (not just filled in a blank) “office charge- $100”. When I asked, the salesman, he said it was standard. I complained and didn’t back down. After “talking to the boss” they waived the charge. This was obviously a dealership trick.

@DavidL Yes, and they would probably charge you for the air you breathed in the showroom if they could. All this added stuff is a chance to get more money from you once you have decided to buy the car. They tried it on me, $283 for shipping the car from another dealership who had the right color. I sent the salesman straight back and told him if refused by the sales manager, we already had another car lined up elswhere.

I’m not defending any salesman that flat out lies (excluding factors related to ignorance of course) but salesmen have the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head every single second. There’s a mountain of pressure on them and there’s no way on Earth I could or would sell cars.

A deal doesn’t go through because the customer has bad credit? Salesman’s fault.
Customer just flat decides they like a car across town better? Salesman’s fault.
Customer won’t budge another 100 bucks and the sales manager won’t budge a 100 on his end? Salesman’s fault.
Customer wants a basic car with no add-on fluff like ext. warranty and undercoating and won’t budge? Salesman’s fault.
Customer wants a particular model in green and everything on the lot is silver; leading to a no sale? Salesman’s fault.

Some dealers hire sales personnel in droves, 30 or 40 at a time. Within 2 weeks the vast majority (if not all of them) have been axed.
To be honest, sometimes I feel a bit sorry for some of them.

My son supported his family as a salesperson in the hardware department of Sears while he was finishing his seminary degree. He likes people and really enjoyed helping women choose something for their husbands. He would question a woman about her husband’s interests and what price she had in mind and then guide her to a particular tool. He was on commission and the commission wasn’t very much on a stocking stuffer, but he thought this was more fun than a contractor coming in for a particular model of air compressor. The commission on the air compressor was good, but there wasn’t any work to selling it. At any rate, the owner of the local Ford agency saw him workiing with customers and tried to hire him to sell cars. My son declined–said that he really didn’t like the idea of pushing cars to people that were more expensive than they could really afford and he didn’t like the idea of selling the financing of the car. My son is now an elementary teacher, and uses his selling expertise to “sell” the students on the idea of doing their schoolwork.